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tv   Frontline  PBS  January 27, 2011 3:00am-4:30am EST

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>> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. with major funding from the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. additional funding is provided by the park foundation. committed to raising public awareness. and by the frontline journalism fund. >> tonight on frontline...
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in the past five years, fort carson, colorado, has seen 36 of its soldiers commit suicide. >> i thought that my time in this place was over and i didn't want to live any more. >> 17 have been charged or convicted of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter. >> the defendant pulled out the .357 magnum and fired one shot. >> what happened in iraq? >> we were trigger happy. >> there's a whole bunch of people who killed people they weren't supposed to. >> looking back on it, looked like i was going crazy. and i just wonder how no one could see that. >> what happened when they came home? >> they still had iraq inside of them. >> you just feel like everybody's against you, and if you don't know them, they're your enemy. >> are we going to have more murders, more suicides, more crime? the answer to that is probably yes. >> frontline investigates the invisible wounds of war. >> we give up part of our morality to go to war.
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it allows us to survive, it allows us to kill. >> tonight, "the wounded platoon." >> i didn't even want to come home. you just felt naked and totally vulnerable, unless you were armed. like, i mean, we all carried guns. there would be a huge group of us, and everyone in the group would have a gun. >> narrator: in november 2007, four soldiers back from iraq
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went out drinking. >> i was a real bad alcoholic. i spent all my savings my first month back just drinking. >> narrator: they had all served together in baghdad during the surge. >> i was having, like, a total mental breakdown. i lost control. >> narrator: by the next morning, one of them was dead. kevin shields had been shot three times at point blank range and left by the side of the road. two of his fellow soldiers would be convicted of conspiring to murder him. the other, a decorated infantry gunner, would be found guilty of accessory to murder. >> i decided to do some things i shouldn't have been doing, and it all just came tumbling down like a house of cards, one thing
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after another. i got locked up and i've been here ever since. >> narrator: kenny eastridge is now two years into a ten-year prison sentence. he once had a promising military career ahead of him. from a poor kentucky background, eastridge had joined the infantry at the age of 19 and excelled as a soldier. >> hey, good job, eastridge. good soldier. good guy. congratulations on everything.
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you had a hell of a last couple of months. >> thank you. >> congratulations. ( applause ) >> narrator: he was mentored by a charismatic and experienced sergeant, sean huey. >> he was kind of like a father figure to us. he saw potential in me and he wanted me to be a soldier. and he knew i could do it. ( laughter ) >> narrator: huey was the most popular sergeant in his platoon, especially with the lower ranks. >> he was a good guy. he was one of those guys that, like... he always was doing something crazy, everybody was laughing at him. >> when he was our squad leader, we were the best squad in the... in the battalion. >> narrator: huey and eastridge were both members of third platoon, charlie company, first
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battalion, 506th infantry-- the regiment known as the "band of brothers." in iraq, the 42 men of third platoon won a reputation as a brave and lethal team. stationed in the desert in the heart of the sunni triangle, their job was to patrol the highway every day to draw out insurgent attacks and find improvised explosive devices, ieds. the soldiers called their mission "mad max." >> all we do at mad max, we just run up and down this highway, right? and this highway is like... like, it's dangerous. it's like ieds everywhere on this highway. so, we just run around waiting to get hit, and then we react to the contact, you know. >> damn! >> shit! >> ied.
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>> fire in the hole. >> oh, shit! >> damn. >> damn. >> big ied. >> shit. >> narrator: in a year, third platoon's battalion encountered more than 1,000 roadside bombs. they captured 1,800 iraqis and sent 500 to the prison at abu ghraib. two months into its tour, the platoon suffered its first death. the soldiers who were there that day are now scattered across the united states. after five years, they are still haunted by what happened.
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>> november 11, 2004. that was horrible. worst day of my life. i still think about that shit every single day. >> narrator: ryan krebbs, nicknamed "doc," was third platoon's combat medic. >> yeah, i just want, like, vines and, like, overgrowth drooping off the stars. >> were you thinking more, like, jungley or more like... like ivy... >> narrator: he is now in the process of retiring from the army. >> ivy, yeah. >> okay. >> narrator: krebbs was first to the scene when a car bomb ploughed into a platoon checkpoint on veterans day, 2004. >> i'm still having nightmares, flashbacks. there's nothing but smoke and dust everywhere.
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and i remember looking over to the left and seeing two kids completely just torn apart. and i kept running through the smoke, and the first guy i saw was, you know, sergeant huey covered in blood. his uniform was just covered in blood. and that's about all i remember of that incident. >> it was pretty terrible. there were a few of us who were just really close to sergeant huey. i remember seeing lots of body parts laying down the alley. when we first ran up, i seen sergeant huey laying on the ground. he was doing like a dead fish thing, like where he's gasping for air. and he was pale, he was real pale. and i remember my buddy barco, the whole front end of the car blew off and pinned him against the concrete wall.
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>> narrator: jose barco is now serving time in prison. on that day five years ago, fellow soldiers remember him lifting the wreckage of a car and freeing two other soldiers. he was on fire at the time. the wounded were loaded onto a truck. >> there was people everywhere in this vehicle, and they were all hurt. and they were all yelling and crying and screaming in agony and that. i was quiet for the most part. i didn't feel any pain. and then, when i heard all that, sunk in. "well, hold up, i'm hurt, too." and then, as soon as i looked down and i saw that i was hurt, the pain just, like, crept up on me. and then i started screaming too. ( laughs ) >> narrator: seven soldiers from third platoon were badly wounded. sergeant huey was in the worst shape. the medic, doc krebbs, tried to
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save his life, but shrapnel had severed a major artery. >> people don't die like they die in the movies. they turn very pale. when they actually do die, there's, like, a look in their eyes. you can tell that there's nothing behind their eyes anymore. it's just a dead look. >> narrator: the bomb that killed huey devastated the soldiers of third platoon. two experienced sergeants were sent home to recover from their injuries. jose barco was evacuated to a special burn unit in texas. kenny eastridge had lost a leader who believed in him.
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>> i remember, like, the next day after we lost him, we had to go right back out. you know, you still have to do your job even if your buddy dies. i was wishing that somebody would get out of line. i was, like, "i will just destroy everything." ( gunfire ) >> narrator: eastridge got his wish. after huey's death, the war escalated. the soldiers of third platoon say their battalion killed more than 700 insurgents, but it came at a cost. by the end of the tour, third platoon had suffered more casualties than any other in their company. in the summer of 2005, after a year in iraq, third platoon
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came back to the united states. their new home was fort carson, on the outskirts of colorado springs. since the start of the iraq war, this city has experienced an unprecedented murder spree. in the last five years, 14 fort carson soldiers have been charged or convicted in 13 murders and manslaughters. on friday nights, downtown is full of soldiers from fort carson, some trying to forget what they've experienced, others celebrating their homecoming. ( music playing )
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hector rodriguez was the most experienced sergeant in third platoon. as the men returned from their first tour, he was worried that his younger soldiers would get into trouble. >> i gave them a speech before we came back, and i said, "look, guys, you've been on deployment for a year, and that's pretty much like caging a wild animal and letting it go free." they still had iraq inside of them, and i think a lot of that kind of caused problems for them, because they couldn't let it go. >> get over on the curb. >> oh, my god! >> narrator: the soldiers of third platoon hit the bars of colorado springs as soon as they got home. >> in the first six months, you know, you're just happy to be home. and then, after that six months, i just... problems started.
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depression, anxiety, paranoia. getting the feeling that you're in iraq all over again. seeing people that you know died in iraq in crowds. constantly checking the rooftops as you're walking down the street. ( chuckles ) oh, man. >> narrator: since 2002, the number of fort carson soldiers diagnosed each year with post-traumatic stress disorder, or ptsd, has risen from 26 to 1,120, a rise of over 4,000%. >> be aggressive. when you make contact, tear it up. action and violence is what we are here to do, right?
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okay. all right, it's all yours. >> narrator: in 2005, the leadership at fort carson wasn't prepared for the epidemic of psychological problems amongst its troops. >> whatever weapons system you're engaging a target... >> narrator: all returning soldiers were asked if anything was troubling them from their time in combat. but many in third platoon say they feared they would be ridiculed if they owned up to emotional problems. >> it just seemed like, if you came forward at fort carson, you were going to take it in the ass. it was very easy to convince people that i didn't need help; like, all i had to do was come in and say, "you know, i'm fine, i just need to move on." and they seemed to accept that and say, "okay, you're good to go. see you later." >> you gotta crane safely, but you gotta watch your footing... >> narrator: the commander of third platoon's battalion acknowledges that stigma within the army was a barrier for those who needed help.
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>> i think that it is a natural thing for a man who's a soldier, who's a combat veteran, to think in his mind, "if i'm having a problem that indicates that i have a weakness, that will reflect poorly on me." it's a... you know, it's just... it's... i think that's all perfectly natural. i don't think there's anything weird about that. is it a stigma and is it real? yes, absolutely, and we need to get over that. will we ever? probably not. >> narrator: almost all the soldiers of third platoon told fort carson doctors that they didn't need help, but off-duty, many of them were seeking solace elsewhere. david nash was just 19 when he arrived at fort carson. two months later, he was a cocaine addict.
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>> when we first come home to colorado, i slept with a .45 in my ceiling and a knife right next to the .45. i know of me and a few other people that were just like, "i'll be damned if i'm going to be... if i survive a year in iraq and become a victim, you know, of some gangster or wannabe gangster on the streets. if the mujaheddin can't get me, then i damn sure ain't going to let no gangster get me. you know, that's an impossibility. >> hey, nash. ( laughing ) >> narrator: in iraq, david nash was known as the platoon slacker. he was notorious for being
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asleep when he should have been on a mission. but he was an excellent marksman, and his superiors thought he had the potential to be a good soldier. that all changed when he came home to fort carson. he says he felt paranoid and unsafe, and the only thing that calmed him down was cocaine. >> my problem was, at that point in time, that's all i wanted to do was drugs. i didn't care about nothing anymore. they give you the sense of, like, everything's peaceful, you know. so, if your mind was wandering before and you... you had trouble shutting it off, all of a sudden, oddly enough, you know, you're giddy as all hell whenever you snort cocaine. but at the same time, you're just kind of like, "oh, everything's great," you know. >> narrator: the number of fort carson soldiers failing drug tests rose by 3,000% in the first three years of the iraq
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war. >> i think a lot of soldiers came back, and they were trying to suppress the ptsd. and one of the ways you suppress is by doing cocaine, doing alcohol, doing illegal drugs-- trying to distract your mind from dealing with the symptoms of ptsd. >> narrator: robert alvarez is a marine veteran and a psychotherapist. he has treated many fort carson soldiers who've had drug problems after their tours of duty. >> we ought to be asking why, and we need to keep asking them why until we get to the root cause of why. you know, not because i like it, not because i'm addicted to it, not because it's available. but because i have a problem with dealing with life since i've come back from this war. i have problems with nightmares. i have problems with friends. i have problems with my job. and so, when i go to cocaine, i don't have problems anymore.
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>> narrator: nash failed two army drug tests. he says he then asked his commanders for help dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. >> that's when i come to the conclusion that maybe i had some sort of a problem, you know, because i couldn't kick it on my own. i... i was trying, and i couldn't. and i told them, i said, "look here, i think i got a problem." and they said, "well, you didn't tell us that the first time." and i said, "what difference does it make if i told you the first time or this time? like, i'm still telling you." >> narrator: the commander of third platoon's battalion says he doesn't remember nash asking for help. >> i have no recollection of david nash ever telling me he had ptsd and needed help and... and if i had... if he had, i would have... i would have sent him to get help. >> narrator: nash's medical records show that he did alert fort carson doctors to his ptsd symptoms.
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in a questionnaire, he told them he was having nightmares, was constantly on guard, felt numb, and was worried he would hurt or lose control with someone. the assessment concluded he was a "current risk for harm to self or others." shortly afterwards, nash was discharged from the army, with no ptsd diagnosis and what's called an "other-than-honorable" discharge. this meant he was ineligible for medical care from the veterans administration. his commander thought he deserved the misconduct discharge. >> if an individual thinks that it's natural to come back and to lean on drugs and alcohol as a self medication... self-medicating process instead of going to seek help, he's
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wrong-minded. he's... he's not thinking through that very clearly. the army can't cure all the ills of society. the army has got to be the army, and the army has got to train on and be ready to fight our country's fights. you've still got a mission to do. you can't do it with this guy. he came from society. he needs to go back to society. >> narrator: since he was discharged, nash has been wandering around the united states, finding work as a welder when he can get it. he's still in touch with another veteran of third platoon who was also discharged for taking drugs.
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he now lives in a trailer park in texas. >> got back, got in trouble; had a drug test on friday, thought we had plenty of time to do whatever we wanted to; so got a little cocaine, did it; then, the next thing you know, monday morning, we had a 99% drug test, failed it. >> i was geared up. >> we didn't do much of shit after that. went to formation and that was it. >> i kind of quit going to formation, actually. >> yeah. >> narrator: josh butler was no angel before he joined the army. he was kicked out of high school for smoking marijuana in 10th grade. since he was thrown out of the army, he's had more problems
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with alcohol and drugs. and he's served time in jail for beating his wife. >> i was pretty mean and aggressive. it was like somebody flipped the light switch which turned me into a super asshole. i slapped her up in her face and pushed her down on the ground that day and i shouldn't have. stupid. sorry, you know, but i did it. >> narrator: back in iraq, butler was decorated for his part in capturing the fifth-most wanted man in the country: saddam hussein's half-brother. but like many of his fellow soldiers, butler never recovered from the trauma of the platoon's first death, the suicide attack that killed the popular sergeant, sean huey. >> doc krebbs was trying to push on, you know, where he was hit at to stop the bleeding.
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i was holding his nose and doing rescue breathing and just trying to... screaming at him, you know, talking to him and trying to get him to snap out of it or say something or whatever. but he never did. me and doc krebbs and eastridge got these tattoos to remember sergeant huey by. it's just m16 and a helmet, the dog tags and the boots. now, every time someone asks me what this tattoo is, i take a minute to tell them about sergeant huey. it just gives me a chance to tell people about him, because he was my friend. i don't know. wish he was still here.
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>> narrator: in all, 15 out of 42 soldiers from third platoon left the army after a single iraq tour. four were kicked out for failing drug tests. one was sent to prison for driving while drunk and fleeing the scene of an accident. five were medically discharged. five left the army because their service had ended. as the platoon geared up for its second iraq tour, kenny eastridge was now one of its most experienced soldiers, but he was getting drunk every night. >> i remember i had all kinds of problems when i got back, you know? i just tried to deny it, i guess, and i tried to function as long as i could without help. you just feel like everybody's against you.
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if they weren't there with you, then they're your enemy. and if you don't know them, they're your enemy and they're out to get you. everybody is. >> narrator: this wasn't the first time kenny eastridge had suffered from psychological problems. when he was just 12 years old, he'd shot and killed his best friend while playing a video game. he'd claimed it was an accident, but pled guilty to reckless homicide. his juvenile record should have disqualified him from military service, but the army was hard-pressed for recruits. he'd been granted a waiver. soldiers with criminal backgrounds have proved a mixed blessing for the army. >> on the one hand, there seem to be more problems with the soldiers who have been granted waivers. on the other hand, the soldiers... there's more heroism among the soldiers who have been granted waivers. they're risk takers, and
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because they're risk takers, they're more likely to be heroic. they're also more likely to do something dumb. >> narrator: as the battalion prepared to head back to iraq in fall 2006, eastridge was arrested for assault after pointing a gun at his girlfriend's head in a drunken argument. it looked like his war was over. military regulations state that a soldier who has a pending criminal charge may not deploy, but the unit was now short of soldiers. two weeks before third platoon headed out, eastridge's new company commander decided to take him. >> with a pending criminal assault charge against him, why did you say it was all right for him to go back to iraq? >> i vaguely remember kind of the circumstances around his
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pending assault charge. to the best of my knowledge, though, those charges i believe were going to be-- from what we were told by the prosecutor-- dropped. i believe that decision... that's what led to the decision of him deploying with the company. >> narrator: in fact, the assault charge was never dropped. eastridge's lawyer thinks he was deployed because the army was short of boots on the ground. >> the military knew that kenny eastridge had problems, but he was a good solider. he was a soldier. they needed manpower. somebody should have picked it up that kenny eastridge was struggling and kenny eastridge was out of control. i mean, you pick up a menacing case, and that's a fairly violent offense. it's taking a handgun and threatening his girlfriend. you know, telltale signs were all over the place. and the truth of the matter is,
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you took a broken soldier and you sent him back. >> the new strategy i outline tonight will change america's course in iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror. this will require increasing american force levels, so i've committed more than 20,000 additional american troops to iraq. >> narrator: the soldiers of third platoon were sent back into combat after just one year at home. the military now acknowledges this is not enough time for soldiers to recuperate. >> our ultimate goal is a minimum of one year deployed, two years back home. we have not reached it with all units. it's a supply and demand problem. i cannot do anything about the demand.
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i only have a finite supply. and when the demand goes up and orders are given, we provide the soldiers. >> narrator: the united states was making a last-ditch effort to regain control of a chaotic country, an effort now known as "the surge." ( gunfire ) the surge was not only an increase in troop numbers but also a change of tactics on the ground. for the soldiers who fought in it, the surge meant more time out of their armored vehicles and intense combat. ( gunfire ) some of the soldiers of third platoon were happy to be back. >> i wasn't scared. if there was like a street or an
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intersection or a road where most likely where we would get some kind of a contact from, i was always put there. "oh, put barco in the danger, the most dangerous spot." put me in the most dangerous spot. >> narrator: jose barco is now serving a 52-year prison sentence. once upon a time, he was one of the platoon heroes. >> hi. are you recording me? you better not be recording me, yet. ( laughter ) >> narrator: after the suicide attack that killed sergeant huey on their first tour, fellow soldiers remember him helping the wounded despite
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being badly burned himself. >> specialist barco, he was wounded with me. i really cared for that kid. he was a really good soldier, a really good person. you know, we kind of traveled from hospital to hospital together. it kind of worked out that way because we both kind of needed... he had some, you know, serious burns and, you know, with the shrapnel i took, we kind of ended up in the same room in germany. i can say i kind of looked at him like a little brother, you know, just because of everything we went through. >> narrator: he was offered retirement with a full medical pension, but he turned it down. >> i wanted to go back because i felt... felt like i let somebody down, my unit. you know, i knew... i knew it wasn't like that. it wasn't my fault that we all got hurt. but still, i wanted to... it was something.... it felt
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incomplete, you know. the mission hasn't been accomplished. >> narrator: third platoon's battle space was an al qaeda stronghold in southern baghdad. ( gunfire ) one of their jobs was to collect the corpses of iraqis murdered in sectarian violence. >> we ran into, like, groups, like mass executions, with their hands tied behind their backs and everybody shot in the head. like side by side. it's not like seeing a dead body while you're walking, you know, to the grocery store here. it's not... it's not like that. it was iraq, you know. it's kind of like acceptable to
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see that there and not... not really care about it. it got to the point, really, it was like seeing a dead dog or a dead cat laying on... it just got to that point. >> narrator: the surge was a strategic success, but for the young soldiers of third platoon, there was a psychological cost. >> they were more exposed to the elements and to the bad guys and to the horrors of the battlefield for longer periods of time without a break, and that's got to have an impact. that's going to. it did have an impact. there's no... clearly no doubt about it. is that a reason not to do the surge? no. the surge worked. we needed to do the surge. war is a dangerous thing, and there is going to be repercussions from the actions, whether they're successful or not. and some of those are going to be us dealing with troops that have psychological problems that
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they bring back with them. i don't know if there's any way around that. you got to do what you have to do. >> narrator: throughout 2007, third platoon's battalion experienced a casualty rate eight times higher than other fort carson units. as the death count rose, the survivors became numb. >> in iraq, you've got to be numb. there was this one time that we got in a huge fire fight, and we didn't have room for our casualties in our trucks to take them to the hospital. and these casualties... there were like four or five or them that were dead, and there were soldiers that we knew personally. we piled the trunk of our vehicles with dead american soldiers, just throw 'em in there. they were hanging out the trunk, you couldn't even close the trunk. you can't not be numb because if
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you're not numb... in those moments, you're going to go crazy. you... you're going to go crazy, you know. i guess it just follows me. ( gunfire ) >> narrator: the surge took time to work. third platoon's deployment was extended from a year to 15 months. >> no one wanted to go to a 15-month deployment, but 15-month deployments were a requirement, given the demand on soldiers at that time in the theatres of iraq or afghanistan. it's a simple math problem, and that is not a problem that i can control or that the army can control. >> yeah, we fucked this place up. >> narrator: by fall 2007, the soldiers of third platoon had spent 26 of the last 39 months
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in iraq. morale was low. ( sirens ) >> hello, you fucking insurgent bitch! >> narrator: on one day of intense combat, doc krebbs was the closest medic to the scene of a massive roadside bomb. >> the images of it, you know what i mean? the guy in the back seat was basically just a flak vest with boots in the floorboard of the humvee. there's nothing that i could tell of him left. >> narrator: krebbs started behaving irrationally. he stopped loading his weapon when he was out on patrol.
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he realized he was a danger to his fellow soldiers, so he went to talk to an army psychiatrist on base. >> i came clean, and i told that guy that, "hey, i'm not loading my weapon anymore. i'm also having this problem, i'm also having this problem." i wanted them to recognize that i had a problem and to say, "he can't go outside the wire anymore." >> narrator: the psychiatrist declared krebbs fit for duty. >> it was like, "all right, after your hour session, go on back. put your boots on, let's go." you know what i mean? just... it blew my fucking mind. i shouldn't have been allowed to go outside the wire. >> narrator: krebbs wasn't the only soldier who was unraveling. >> i was having, like, a total mental breakdown.
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every day we were getting in battles and never having a break, it seemed like. it was just crazy. i just got to where i couldn't take it. i tried to go to mental health, and they put me on all kinds of meds, too. and i was still going out on missions. they had me on ambien, remeron, lexapro, celexa, all kind of different stuff. they tried different medications, different doses, and nothing would work. >> narrator: before the iraq war, american soldiers in combat zones were not allowed to take prescription medications because it was difficult to get the drugs and the doctors to supervise their use to the frontlines. but by the time of the surge, improved supply lines meant that more than 20,000 u.s. troops in afghanistan and iraq were taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills. these drugs enable the army to keep soldiers with post-traumatic stress on the battlefield.
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>> ptsd is a very difficult disorder to treat. i can't change the days that occurred, the events that occurred. i can't go back and affect the memories until they start talking about them. what i use medications for to treat very specific side effects. i don't want somebody in a helplessness mode in a combat environment. i want to make sure i don't have, you know, someone with suicidal thoughts where everyone is armed. i want to be able to manage that effectively. if i can treat it there and optimize their recovery, that's valuable. >> narrator: but some civilian psychiatrists are concerned that these could be inappropriate drugs for a war zone. dr. joseph glenmullen has studied kenny eastridge's prescriptions from his time in iraq. >> all of these antidepressants now carry, in recent years, a black box warning. the black box warning for these antidepressants says that they
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can make people suicidal and a variety of other side effects that include insomnia, anxiety, agitation, irritability, hostility, impulsivity and aggression, all of which obviously could become critical in a combat situation. >> i got stairs. >> narrator: eastridge was also prescribed ambien, a sleeping medication. >> ambien is one of a new class of sleeping pills, all of which now carry a warning that they have alcohol-like effects and can make people less inhibited, and specifically warn that people should not perform hazardous occupations while on the drugs. >> being in the army is a hazardous occupation? >> well, i would think that being in a combat zone would be considered a hazardous occupation. >> everybody was on ambien. everybody.
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it was hard to find somebody that wasn't taking ambien. helps you sleep, and it also... ambien gets you pretty high. you get your body high, you have trouble remembering things. it lowers your inhibitions, all of that stuff. they shouldn't give soldiers ambien in iraq. >> hello. >> should the army be prescribing these medications with those kind of side effects in theater? >> i've got to trust that our mental healthcare professionals downrange would not prescribe those drugs if they felt that there would be issues with those drugs in theater. but i do know that drugs, when properly administered, can be very effective at working at some of the issues we've seen with our soldiers. >> narrator: the warnings on these medications state that patients should be closely monitored for potential side
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effects. but the tactics of the surge meant that third platoon was often based in a small combat outpost in an abandoned house away from the main base. >> all right, we're good. >> narrator: it was difficult for army medical staff to keep a close eye on eastridge's reaction to his medications. ( laughter ) when the platoon was stationed at the combat outpost for more than a week, eastridge says his medications ran out. >> an additional risk of these drugs is withdrawal, withdrawal syndromes. the highest period of risk is in the early weeks or months after either starting the drug or changing the dose in either direction, up or down. >> hello? >> hello, sexy! >> american!
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>> narrator: it's impossible to say how much of eastridge's behavior in iraq was related to his prescription medications. ( laughter ) he was also smoking marijuana and taking valium, which he says he bought from the platoon's iraqi translator. >> looking back on it, i mean, it looks like i was going crazy. ( laughter ) >> i love watching this guy because he has no conscience at all. >> i don't think she wants to hug you, dude. i think she's scared. >> go ask this guy if hew wants to hug. >> i just started overdoing it. i lost control. >> oh!
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( laughter ) >> oh, oh! >> narrator: back on base, eastridge had fallen in with two other soldiers from his company who were also having trouble coping with the stresses of combat. over time, it became a toxic friendship. louis bressler had recently been devastated by the death of a close friend in his unit. he was suffering from chronic ptsd and was taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills. bruce bastien, a medic, was looking for a way out of iraq. he'd asked eastridge to shoot a bullet through his arm so he could be sent home wounded. eastridge agreed to do it, but he missed. in august 2007, eastridge was caught with 463 valium pills in
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his room. he lost his temper and threatened to murder his lieutenant. >> this kid went downhill very fast. i was like, "this is not the same person i went to iraq with before. there's no way that this is the same guy." >> narrator: he was court-martialed on nine counts, including illegal possession of drugs and threatening an officer. army doctors examined him and concluded he was suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress and homicidal thoughts. these afflictions were "battle-related." he was sent home under military escort to colorado springs, but when he got back, he escaped and went awol. >> i was like, "they're going to kick me out when i get back anyways and go through all this
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court stuff," so i was just like, "who cares?" i tried to get a job and just nothing was coming. nothing would pan out, and i didn't want to wait. i was like, "you know, i'm struggling, i don't have any place to live. i'm homeless." >> narrator: eastridge hooked up with his two troubled friends from baghdad. louis bressler had been sent home from iraq after assaulting his sergeant. bruce bastien was home on leave and had been charged with assaulting his wife. together, they planned to make some money. >> i had found a place that would hire me, but they wanted me to wait, like, three months. and i was just like, "you know, i got to get money, so i'm just going to go take it from somebody else."
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>> narrator: the soldiers picked their victim at random. early one morning, a young woman was walking to a bus-stop on her way to work. >> it was like 5:45 in the morning, october 27, 2007. the car whooshes down there, and then three gentlemen got out the car started stabbing me. i didn't know i was stabbed, though. >> all i remember is they told me to get on the ground and look the other way and pointed a nine revolver. i do remember what that gun looked like.
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>> okay. >> narrator: bastien stabbed her six times. eastridge was holding the gun to her head. eastridge had now been awol for a month. he decided it was time to go back to fort carson. by the army's own rules, he should have gone into immediate psychiatric treatment for his ptsd, but he was processed out of the military that same day. >> kenny was diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, battle-related. what do they do? they kick him out. they discharge him.
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they don't put him in treatment. they don't offer him anything other than to turn him out and release him on the streets of colorado springs, colorado. >> narrator: a few days later, on november 30, 2007, eastridge headed out again with bastien and bressler. in a bar on tejon street, colorado springs, they met another soldier from their company. his name was kevin shields. it was his 24th birthday. he'd been sent home from iraq with concussion injuries. the four soldiers got drunk. then they piled into a car and drove around colorado springs smoking marijuana. they were all stoned and throwing up. >> i don't really want to go in to detail about it, you know. just being where i am, i can't really talk about certain
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things. and... it was just way out of hand, you know? i didn't know it was going to happen like that. i didn't know it was going to happen at all. and then it did, so i had to go with it. >> narrator: the next morning, kevin shields' body was found by the side of a road in westside, colorado springs. he'd been shot twice in the head. police soon discovered that the victim had been drinking with eastridge, bastien and bressler just before he was killed. >> i saw as i talk you, i'm going to tell you whatever. >> okay. >> narrator: they were hauled in for questioning. kenny eastridge initially refused to say what had happened. >> do you want an attorney before you talk? is that what you are saying? >> yeah, she told me to wait to talk to here before i talk to you guys anyway. >> narrator: louis bressler would not answer questions either. >> can i just see my lawyer? >> is that what you want to do right now?
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>> yes, sir. >> okay. >> i think. >> narrator: but bruce bastien was prepared to talk. >> appreciate you coming down. thanks. >> no problem. >> narrator: he said that bressler had opened fire on kevin shields after a drunken fight got out of control. >> first shot, what does shields do? >> he just drops. >> okay. >> straight dropped... straight to the floor. >> okay. >> i don't know where he hit him first or anything. >> okay. >> i heard it, and all of a sudden i see the body fall to the ground. kenny's in the back, he's watching. we're both yelling, "get in the fucking car. get in the fucking car." >> right. >> he does that. he fucking jumps in the car real quick, shuts the door, and we fucking just peel off. >> okay. >> i was like "what the fuck did you just do, are you fucking stupid?" louis, he was barely even talking, because he was too busy throwing up. >> okay. >> narrator: frontline has acquired the unedited tapes of bruce bastien's police interviews, 14 hours in total. >> what's he do? >> guy just drops straight to his knees. >> he goes to his knees. >> narrator: in them, he confesses to his role in a
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second murder of another fort carson soldier and to the assault of erica ham. >> the guy falls back. >> okay. hey, kelly. >> narrator: but he also makes extraordinary claims about more murders, that he says were committed in iraq during the surge. he says that eastridge and other members of third platoon murdered iraqi civilians, or "hajis" in soldier slang. >> the military would be very interested in some of that. >> most of it's all murder. all of it, really. it's easy to get away with that kind of shit. >> right. >> you can just do it and be like, "he had a gun. i don't know." nobody really looks into it. they're like, "fuck it, it's just another dead haji." >> right. >> there's stuff like that, and there's just straight up, like, straight killings. driving down the road, fuck it, shoot somebody. >> you know this information is not going to help you, right? >> yeah, fuck it. i'm fucked anyway. >> if you make up this information, you'll be charged for that. you know that. >> oh yeah, i know. >> i don't have any times, any
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dates, anything like that. i just have you saying that, "yes, eastridge popped off at people driving down the road." >> yeah. there's a bunch of people in the unit that have done stuff like that, and killed people they weren't supposed to. >> little faster. >> narrator: kenny eastridge says he did not murder civilians in iraq. rather, he says that unarmed iraqis were killed accidentally when third platoon was on patrol. >> civilians die in combat, you know. they run around, like, in fire fights and some of them get killed by accident. stuff like that. it doesn't really matter to me at all, either. they're all hajis to me. like, if i see a dead haji, it doesn't make it better that it's a civilian or that it's an armed guy trying to kill me, because to us, they're all... they're
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all guilty. you disassociate. to you, they're not even people, you know. they're not humans. they're not like us. they're not the same as us. it's how you look at them. they're hajis and we're not. >> narrator: when army criminal investigators tried to question eastridge about the allegations, he refused to talk to them. later, the army issued a statement that they were not "able to uncover any credible information or evidence to substantiate" bastien's allegations, but jose barco told frontline that he often killed unarmed iraqis during the surge. >> we were trigger happy. we were pretty trigger happy. like, we'd... we'd open up on anything. we usually rolled three or four trucks, and if one of them got
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hit and there was like any males around, we'd open up and we'd shoot at them. it was kind of like that. that's how... that's... that's pretty much... you know, they didn't even have to be armed. we were just bragging like that. we'd be like, "well, i got one last week, all right, so it's not all that. we still... i still got you." we were keeping track. we were keeping scores. it's just... >> narrator: no soldier from third platoon has been charged with killing civilians in iraq. louis bressler and bruce bastien were eventually sentenced to 60 years in prison for the murder years in prison for the murder of kevin shields and a string of other crimes in colorado springs.
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kenny eastridge's attorney was able to get a plea bargain because eastridge had no weapon when shields was murdered. he was sentenced to ten years. the rest of third platoon came home from iraq a few weeks after the murder of kevin shields. many were haunted by what they had seen and done during the surge. doc krebbs was having hallucinations that iraqi insurgents were trying to kill him. he tried to get help. >> i talked to mental health, and the lady was a female colonel that i just didn't want to sit there and be like, "well, this happened in iraq, and this happened," because you have no fucking idea what iraq's like,
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you know, a female officer. you're never going to know what it's like to be on the ground. and i just closed up and didn't want to talk to her. and so, when she asked me, i was very basic, and i said, "yeah, i saw a couple of things and i'm having trouble sleeping." >> narrator: he was prescribed the powerful anti-psychotic medication seroquel to help him sleep, but krebbs had reached the end of his rope. >> i tried to kill myself by swallowing a lot of seroquel and drinking some vodka. i just couldn't take this shit anymore. i thought that my time in this place was over, and i'd already done what i was supposed to do and i didn't want to live anymore.
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>> narrator: since the iraq war began, at least 36 fort carson soldiers have committed suicide. the numbers are rising every year. when jose barco got home, he was suffering from nightmares, memory loss and sudden rages. he was diagnosed with ptsd at fort carson's hospital and prescribed multiple medications to deal with the symptoms. >> they gave me eight or nine different medications. for every symptom of ptsd, they had a medication for it. you know, if you couldn't sleep they'd give you something. you had nightmares, they'd give you something. you... you drank too much, they'll give you something for that. you know, they were just pulling medications out of nowhere.
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>> narrator: fort carson's hospital was now overwhelmed with soldiers suffering from psychological injuries sustained during the surge. to make matters worse, staffing levels for psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers were well below army recommendations. >> we'd have a waiting room full of 30 soldiers waiting to be seen because they had an acute mental health crisis. >> symptoms were being treated through the use of medication and medication management. you know, here's a prescription, fill the prescription, take your medications as prescribed, follow up with your physician, you know, with your psychiatrist-- your psychologist, rather-- in... in a month. >> narrator: barco was sent for counseling at a private clinic in colorado springs because fort carson didn't have enough psychiatrists to treat its own soldiers. but after a couple of visits, he says he stopped showing up
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and stopped taking his medication. he was drinking heavily and carrying weapons. >> it was a bad idea. we... i don't need to be, you know, around guns or anything like that. when people get back from iraq-- especially, like, the infantry guys-- they buy out the gun stores. i didn't go like that. i just bought like, a handgun or something like that. i didn't go crazy. i'm not gun crazy. >> on april 25, 2008, jose barco, the defendant in this case, went to a party. >> narrator: four months after he got back from iraq, barco got into an argument at a party in colorado springs. >> the defendant then pulled out the .357 magnum from his belt, pointed it in the air in a room
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full of 20 or 30 people... >> narrator: he was thrown out of the house after shooting at the ceiling. he drove off and then circled back to the house. six shots were fired from his car. one bullet narrowly missed a young man. another hit a pregnant woman in the leg. >> we ask you to find him guilty on all counts. >> narrator: barco was convicted on two counts of attempted murder. in sentencing, his lawyers would try to argue that the judge should take into account his combat injuries. after multiple concussions from roadside bombs, he'd been diagnosed with a "traumatic brain injury," or tbi. ( explosion ) it's estimated that more than 300,000 u.s. soldiers have
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suffered tbis in iraq and afghanistan. ( explosion ) doctors are still trying to understand their potential long-term effects. ( explosion ) >> tbi most sensitively affects executive functioning, that part of the brain that we use for judgment and we use for decision-making when we are in situations of intense emotion. so if a person is affected, they don't have the controls that they had before. >> narrator: military psychiatrist stephen xenakis has studied how traumatic brain injuries can affect behavior. he thinks there may be a link between barco's injuries and his crimes. >> we have someone who's been emotionally traumatized and
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they've got ptsd. they're anxious and they're depressed. and they've got tbi, which means that they've got problems in decision making. they can't think as clearly. they are really vulnerable to just reacting, overreacting, maybe doing something that they had done when they'd been in combat. >> we are asking the court to impose a minimum sentence, given the situation mr. barco has with his medical condition, mental health, and his service to this country. it is important to know he has a diagnosis of ptsd. he also has some traumatic brain injury from the numerous explosions he was subject to during his combat service in iraq. so we are asking the court to impose a minimum sentence. >> narrator: the defense also
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presented extracts from barco's medical records, but the judge was to rule that his injuries did not mitigate his crimes. >> this was a stupid, angry and impulsive act. i expect young gang members who are at war with each other to do drive-by shootings. somebody who has been in iraq and is a military veteran, i don't expect that type of behavior from you. in fact, it brings considerable discredit upon the uniform that you wore to be engaged in that type of activity. accordingly, i have to impose a sentence that is appropriate to the level of crime you've committed. as to criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, i'll impose a 20-year department of corrections sentence. to the second count of criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree against ginny stefanic, i'll impose 32 years in the department of corrections. by operation of law, those sentence have to run consecutive to one another. >> narrator: barco was sentenced to a total of 52 years behind bars. he will be eligible for parole
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in the year 2035. by 2009, 17 fort carson soldiers had been charged or convicted of murder, manslaughter or attempted murder in four years. spurred by public outrage, the army's medical command conducted an investigation into 14 of the criminal soldiers. >> good morning. this extremely in-depth study did not reveal any one single cause but rather a comprehensive list of individual predisposing factors such as criminal behavior, drug and/or alcohol abuse, prior behavior health issues and barriers to seeking behavior health care. >> narrator: the study found that most of the 14 soldiers had experienced unusually intense combat in iraq. six of them had criminal records before they joined the military.
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11 of them had a history of substance abuse. nine were taking prescription medications. the study concluded that leadership failures and barriers to seeking care may have contributed to the killings. >> has anyone been held accountable for the failures that were found in the report? >> you're asking for officers to be accountable for someone's choices on their private time after hours, and a series of negative choices that may have set people up for failure, and the people that they hung with. i'm having trouble seeing a direct correlation to how a leader failed there. >> the failure is that they didn't put together the system robust enough to catch these things.
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>> you know, if i'd fought this war before and had learned these lessons before, i might hold people accountable. >> narrator: since the report was published, the authorities at fort carson have made changes in the mental health treatment of soldiers. the behavioral health unit has recruited more staff to deal with returning soldiers. troops now undergo resiliency training before they deploy, but there are concerns that not enough has changed since the study was released. despite the recruitment drive, fort carson's hospital is still understaffed, with almost a quarter of psychiatry positions unfilled. and third platoon's brigade, now reflagged as the 2-12 infantry, is just about to come home from yet another year of intense combat, this time in afghanistan.
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>> 2-12 is now coming back from its third tour, and we're going... and we're at capacity now. and we're all wondering what's going to happen. you know, it's a scary thought, you know, what's going to happen in this community. are we going to have more murders, are we going to have more suicides, or are we going to have more crime? and i think the... the answer to that is probably yes. ( sirens ) >> narrator: most of the men of third platoon are now scattered over the united states, many of them civilians. not all of the troubled soldiers have been abandoned by the army. six months after he got back from the surge, doc krebbs was transferred from fort carson to fort belvoir, virginia, where he finally got proper help after three years of suffering from ptsd.
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it's now almost a year since krebbs tried to kill himself. he's just retired from the military. the army is providing him with disability payments as compensation for his ptsd. he's come up to the rockies for a weekend with david nash, his old friend from third platoon. >> i'm very optimistic about the future now. i feel like i can actually go somewhere now. for the last year, i knew i wasn't going to be getting promoted or staying in the military, and you just feel like
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you're stuck. and there's nothing you can do about it because there literally is nothing that you can do about it. and now that i'm out, it's... you know, i can go to school now, i can do what i want to do and actually do something with my life other than go fight in wars i don't believe in. >> haji comes out of an alley, just like ka-ka-ka-ka spray and pray, and not sergeant brooks but the other guy, what's his name? >> i forget his name but he was badass. >> he was just like quick-draw. fa-boom! wa-kow! >> right between the eyes. >> drops him. i was like, "what the fuck?" >> that was fucking sick. >> narrator: krebbs credits his ongoing recovery to a therapy group he joined at fort belvoir. >> that same guy, i saw him with his nine-mil out. you didn't feel so alone or crazy anymore, you know. a lot of times you don't want to say anything to anybody because the shit that's going through your head, it's crazy.
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when you see that other people are also just as crazy as you are, it makes you a little comforting, i guess. somedays they would find, like, 30 bodies. a lot of bodies just out in the street, just abandoned. they were, you know, cut up pretty bad. >> narrator: krebbs says he feels almost normal now. he's off all his medications. other soldiers from third platoon are still looking for help. it's now four years since david nash was thrown out of the army. he's still unemployed. he smokes marijuana every day. he avoids crowds. he has no access to va psychiatric treatment because of his misconduct discharge... but his family wants him to get help for depression.
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nash's aunt is taking him to a drop-in center for combat veterans. any former soldier is eligible to talk to a therapist at a vet center. >> okay, let's start off with the military. you enlisted in the army october 6. >> yeah, 2003. >> how come? >> wasn't going to do anything else. >> nothing else to do? >> narrator: like many in the platoon, nash thinks his problems started five years ago when sergeant sean huey was killed at the beginning of the first tour. >> and then, all of a sudden, you just hear fa-boom, and a big old mushroom cloud. and you're just like... we go down there as fast as possible and try to revive sergeant huey. and he died once on the way to the hospital, and once at the hospital, and they brought him back, and then he eventually died again. i was like... >> how does it feel talking about it? how does it feel thinking about it?
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>> i don't know, just sad, i guess. i don't know, sad, angry. >> i can see in your face. >> homicidal. i don't know, something like that, you know. want to drop a bomb on them. so he died. >> you know that's part of ptsd. that's dehumanizing the enemy. that's what we sacrifice. we give up part of our... our morality to go to war. we accept what the military gives us as our morality, our sense of right and wrong. it allows us to survive, it allows us to kill. the trick is coming back and living in a civilian world that doesn't have the same thoughts and feelings as we do, same memories. >> i'm not completely stable. i'm kind of a... what do you call it? like a... i'm like a tripwire. i don't know, it can only take, like, you know, half a pound of pressure and that's it. >> that's what ptsd's like. and it's common to feel that anger, that rage, that depression, that grief, that guilt, the dreams, the drinking,
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the drugging, the fighting. that's normal. what's abnormal was the trauma, was the situation, was the death, war. that's the best definition of ptsd i ever heard. it's a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. don't feel normal, do you? >> no. >> but that reaction is normal. the war wasn't normal, those traumas aren't normal. >> it's only time that'll help you, you know. time is the biggest thing. the more time you have to cope with something, talking to people about it or something like that, and letting people know how you feel about it, then eventually maybe you'll work yourself right.
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>> narrator: nash is on a 2,000-mile journey from new mexico to north carolina. he's making his way across the country to visit the grave of sergeant huey for the first time. >> we're going to go to fayetteville, and we're going to have a reunion for everyone in third platoon as i knew it. and sergeant huey, our squad leader, we're going to go to his gravesite and pay tribute to him. then we're all going to go to a bar and just hang out and get jolly. i would like for everybody to be there as possible. this will be the first time i'll have seen some of them in three years, three-and-a-half years. i was only 20 years old then. i think i've matured somewhat. and i hope they can see it, too. i'm not snorting cocaine every
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week or anything. i've all but quit drinking. "all but," that's a bad phrase, ain't it? >> narrator: it is now five years to the week after sean huey was killed in iraq. some of the platoon are re-uniting at his grave to pay tribute to him. >> what's up? >> hey, big man. >> how you doing? hi, tara, how are you doing? >> good, how are you? >> keeping this... >> you bet. >> hey, how are you doing? >> i'm good, how are you? this is heather. >> narrator: huey's widow is meeting them all for the first time. >> he's a hugger. >> that's okay. it's all right. >> yeah, i'm a hugger. >> i'm good. >> hey, boys! >> let's start the bromance.
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>> narrator: many of them have led productive lives since iraq. >> you know what? i still got that video of you dancing. >> narrator: there's a nursing student; an engineer; a warehouse laborer; an army weapons tester; a special forces captain; a drill sergeant; a firing range supervisor; a coal miner; and an unemployed welder, david nash. >> how you doing, dave? >> heard you're doing some good welding work out there in butler, huh? >> yeah, i try to. >> come here. what are you doing? what's up, son? how you doing? yeah, look at you. they've just heard that their old friend from the platoon, jose barco, has been convicted of attempted murder. >> hear about barco? >> yeah, i just found out. >> that kills me about him, because when we got hurt, him and me were in germany together. the kid never let me live it down because when they were taking all the stuff out of my leg, i was screaming like a little girl because it was all
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dried in there. so i looked around this curtain, and he's on the other side of the curtain in the same room, and he was like, "hey, go ahead, sergeant. don't worry about it. i won't say nothing." as soon as we get around to anybody, he starts, you know "he was screaming like a little girl." i was like, "all right, barco." yeah, we became pretty close. that was pretty bad to hear what happened to him. >> i'm crying. i'm sorry. thank you, guys, for coming out. i didn't talk to sean a lot while he was over there, so i don't know a lot you guys. whatever you all did for sean over there, thank you. i don't know what you all did. i don't know what part... obviously, he made an impact on you, or you wouldn't be here. and i'm sure you all had the same impact on him, so thank you very much.
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>> narrator: doc krebbs couldn't face meeting huey's family, so he didn't come to the reunion. he lives in colorado with his wife and baby son, and returned to college in early 2010. josh butler is unemployed in alabama. he is currently wanted by the police for an old misdemeanor charge. he said he would come to the reunion but didn't show up. jose barco is six months into his 52-year sentence. his lawyers are launching an appeal. kenny eastridge is still in
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prison in colorado. he is eligible for parole in 2012. >> i just want you to know that given that a few of us did screw up when we got back, most of us are doing pretty good now. and me and butler and kenny still think of you very fondly and very often. so, hopefully, we didn't disappoint too much. we'll see you.
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>> there's more of this report on our website, where you can watch the program online. view the story of a platoon member who found a way to deal with his ptsd. >> when i got back from iraq, i was this angry, bitter dude. >> read the interviews with military officials and experts. >> trying to suppress the ptsd. >> that is not a problem that i can control. >> tbi most sensitively affects executive function. >> explore the story behind this film and the producer's journey tracking down the men of third platoon. then join the discussion at pbs.org. pbs.org.
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>> next time on frontline ... how inexperienced pilots... >> they wanted to find away of getting rid of that expensive employee. >> ...and cutting corners on safety... >> if we didn't move those airplanes, they didn't make any money. >> ...and inadequate regulation... >> the faa protects airlines. >> ...led to a tragic crash that exposed the risks... >> the were no survivors. >> ...of "flying cheap." watch frontline. captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
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>> frontline is made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. with major funding from the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation. committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. additional funding is provided by the park foundation. and by the frontline journalism fund. >> you're watching pbs.
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